Thursday, February 02, 2006

Look! A Distraction!

Plug away at the same thing long enough, and you start to go mad! "Should I reprogram the whole menuing system from scratch? Argh!"

Therefore, I am going to take a break from pounding my head against a wall of code and talk just a little bit about setting flavors. Meaning, as usual, I'm going to ramble on interminably about something you've probably never given a second thought to.

One thing you'll notice if you're watching a bunch of things in the same media is that one of their strongest mood setters is their setting. For example, if something takes place in a post-apocalyptic future it's a show which is probably going to go one way, whereas if it takes place in a college, it's probably going to go another way.

But it's not really about the setting. As we've seen with the advent of the romantic zombie comedy, you can turn any setting into any genre, regardless of what people would usually expect. How else can you have comedies set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, or serious discussions on the nature of power and responsibility in a world full of brightly-costumed superheroes?

There's a flavor to the setting you choose, whether you're writing a game, drawing a comic, or filming a show. The audience picks up on the flavor just as fast as the actual setting, and much of the potential of a story is in the tension between the setting and the flavor.

The "flavor" can be seen as a point of view - the kind of point of view I've talked about before. I've said it's the story's job to show a changing point of view, but that's not really the case. It's the story's job to justify a change in point of view. The actual point of view is shown through the flavor of the setting (including characters, actions, etc).

You can see this in virtually every example. Alien and Dark Star have virtually the same setting (written by the same guy, after all), but Alien is gritty and terrifying, whereas Dark Star is a comedy. If you want to contrast less gritty futures, simply compare Star Trek to Logan's Run to Captain Tyler.

To a large extent, it is the visual designer's duty to give the show its flavor. In a movie, this would be the set designer, character designer, and lighting specialist. In a cartoon, this would be the background artist and the character lead. In a book, it would be the parts of the writer which write descriptive text.

Close your eyes and imagine - no, wait, open them again. You'll have to do it with your eyes open, otherwise you'll never be able to read what I'm saying.

Keep your eyes open and imagine Aliens re-filmed. The only differences are: the sets are all brightly lit and pastel colored and the marine uniforms are burger-joint costumes. The aliens themselves are pink.

It would change the movie on a fundamental level. In some ways, it might even make the movie scarier. Or, at least, creepier. All we've done is change the surface paint, but this has deeply altered the flavor of the movie.

Now, I'm not saying that the setting doesn't matter. But the setting is probably less important than the flavor. The setting serves the viewpoint, after all. Not the other way around.

Of course, the whole situation gets freakishly complex when you start to consider pattern-breaking, cliche-avoidance, and plot twists...

Maybe I'll cover them some other day. Right now, I have to go reprogram the whole menuing system. Bleah.


kestrel404 said...

I was just about to post something helpful on the machine city blog, but Blogger won't let me 'cause I'm not a member, and I have no intention of signing up.

Welcome back to Mass, BTW.

Craig Perko said...

Fixed. I wonder how it got like that?